Ronald Thwaites | For better local government
What is the real remit of the municipal councillors we are going to elect next Monday? Apart from the slogans and the disputes about the past, do we yet have a clear, simple set of objectives to which local administrations will commit to achieve?
Absent such a basis for choice, you end up voting for a tribe, a personality or, very likely, you don't bother to exercise your franchise. This time round, we need to do better. Here are a few suggestions.
Whoever comes with a radical plan for keeping Jamaica clean is worthy of support. It is embarrassing that after 54 years of nationhood, we are still squabbling about how to dispose and process our waste and, ultimately, failing to do so. Inner-city Kingston has seldom been nastier than in recent times.
The municipal authorities ought to retake responsibility for solid waste, with the National Solid Waste Management Authority retreating to a regulatory role. Each councillor should take personal remit to lead a public education thrust in favour of cleanliness and healthy living, and be the monitor of the performance of garbage contractors in his or her division.
Any councillor who cannot, or will not, or does not, undertake this basic task of community order ought not to be a councillor.
Then there is the vexed issue of street lighting. Especially in inner- city areas, very many street lights do not work. Word is that there is a tariff that has to be paid, whether or not the lights work, or even if they burn day and night. Surely, this has to be renegotiated, and a councillor should be responsible for monitoring the efficient functioning of street lights in each division.
After 20 years in representative politics, I still do not understand the distinction between main roads and municipal roads, except that anywhere the JUTC bus uses is a National Works Agency road. The division of labour needs to be clarified regarding repair and maintenance. Most times, accountability for road maintenance falls between the two poles of authority.
Within an agreed budget, a councillor must have a say and be held to account for setting priorities for infrastructure upgrading. The principle of subsidiarity dictates that a higher authority should not overtake local competence.
Add to the above list the other subjects of importance appropriate to your vicinity and challenge your candidates as to their commitment to achieve them.
If we are serious about local governance, the councils should be placed on a path of increasing autonomy, eventually eclipsing the need for a Ministry of Local Government. As it is now, they are the poor cousins of a less-than-efficient system.
To properly fund fully enabled municipalities, the basis of calculating property taxes must be considered. Levying on unimproved value while the services expected are related to improved value makes no sense. Over a period of five to 10 years, a comprehensive revaluation should be undertaken.
This week could be the start of a thorough discussion of what the national interest needs local government to become, instead of the defensiveness and mudslinging which have characterised the campaign thus far.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.